James Cummings was a stage carpenter employed by the
Iroquois Theater. He was on a leave of absence
for thirty-two of the thirty-seven days the Iroquois was open.
Nonetheless, deputy coroner
Lawrence Buckley grilled
Cummings for four hours.
Cummings was responsible for assigning workers to
close the side lamps at the end of each act so they
would not be an obstacle when the fire curtain was
lowered. The lamp was not closed on the north
side of the stage after the end of the first act of
Mr. Bluebeard, thus preventing the fire curtain from
descending when needed, but that did not seem to be
Buckley's major complaint with Cummings.
Cummings was also the direct supervisor of theater
William Sallers. He had no role in hiring
Sallers but did give him instructions when Sallers
first came on the job the week before the Iroquois
opened. Cummings told Sallers to make sure
there was no smoking on the premises, and to comply
with fire ordinances. He did not follow up
with Sallers to verify that the ordinance
requirements were met.
Cummings admitted to having one time asked Sallers
to function for a few minutes as a door keeper.
During Cummings thirty-two-day absence from the theater that
practice apparently became common and Sallers served
as a doorman for hours at a time, and on more than
Buckley seemed to take particular offence at the
insult to Sallers and badgered Cummings, apparently
of the opinion that Cummings was responsible for
actions that took place during his absence. If
Buckley attempted to draw a connection between
Sallers doorman time and the fire, it was not
Buckley was of the belief that Cummings was coached
by the attorneys of Powers and Davis. Much of
Buckley's performance resembled a prosecution and
there was little wonder that Cummings was held over
to the grand jury.
Cummings was arrested and held on $5,000 bond before
the coroner's trial, then in February indicted for
manslaughter and held on $3,000 bond pending the
In October, 1904, with
business manager Thomas Noonan, he was granted a
change of venue to Peoria. In February, 1905
judge Green quashed the indictment.
Forty-four year old James Cummings (1858-) was an
Iowa native. His wife of nineteen years, Sarah, was from
Tennessee and his five sons were born in Arkansas
and Illinois. One of those sons, Roger N. Cummings
(1885-), worked as assistant to his father at the
Iroquois. In the decade after the Iroquois fire
James and Sarah lost their oldest son, Noah.
Cummings still worked as a stage carpenter.